The Nitro Joint w / "Chicago Jon" Hoffman

"School is in session

“Mister Blutarsky...zero...point...zero.”

Dean Vernon Wormer (John Vernon) addressing 'Bluto' Blutarsky’s (John Belushi) grades, ANIMAL HOUSE, 1978

It's FEBRUARY, the month of everybody’s favorite 'Hallmark Holiday', VALENTINES DAY! Love is in the AIR! And everybody loves SCHOOL, right? No? Yeah, I hear you, hey, we've ALL been there, right? Attempting to do well in school, ANY school or institution of higher learning, sucks! But remember, as Emil Faber himself once said, "Knowledge Is Good".


And I, in 1988, had the knowledge that the sport of drag racing eats two things with 'robust aplomb', those being, money, and RELATIONSHIPS! I cannot say that my first marriage failed BECAUSE of drag racing, but I do know that my wife’s dislike of the sport was one of MANY straws on that poor camel’s back. SO, that year I'd gotten out of debt from the divorce, steered my life into a positive direction, and created, officially, Chicago Jon Productions. There was just one other thing that ALSO happened in the fall of 1988, I managed to fall in love again. (d'OH!)


Well, we all know the famous phrase, "Those who cannot remember the past, are condemned to repeat it", the wise words of none other than George Santayana. HA!! How many of you thought those words came from that cult-jerk from the jungles of Guyana?? Teacher says, go stand in the corner, and drink some nasty-ass Kool-Aid!


Knowing that I could not even THINK about putting racing aside, as I tried to in a failed attempt to save marriage number one, I created a "school" of my own design and enrolled my new love into it. I told her about this outright, that she was now entering the "Drag Racing Wife’s School", and her successful graduation was PARAMOUNT to this relationship’s future. And, this may sound cold, but I knew in my heart that if she was hating this, by 'this' I mean racing, that moving forward would be a waste of both of our times.


If you are visioning something like me putting her into a desk and asking her about class indexes or other such questions, you would be wrong. ("Student, which track was known as 'the Beach', was it A) Lions, B) Virginia, C) BIKINI, or D) Let’s just go into the coat-room and get naked?") I basically stole the United States Space Program as a business model, and crafted a series of events, building-blocks so to speak, all akin to what living this life was going to be about. And so we began....


An early exercise, to determine what it was like to travel a distance, was a field trip in the frigid cold of January 1989 to Merrillville, Indiana, purpose of which to visit the remains of legendary US 30 Dragway. Aside from the first and most important building-block of this 'school', the outing was, and is today, one of the most important outings ever in the history of CJP. The facility was near pristine. I've said many times, in the spring of 1989, if you could give me six day-laborers and an electrician, that track could be running brackets in one week. And my student? LOVED it, enjoyed seeing the sights. Heck, it was HER that said we should get some Slim Jims while gassing up at the truck stop. (What's a road trip without SLIM JIMS, right?) AND, she was the one who spotted the bar down the road from the track as well. Professor Chicago Jon gave her an A+ for the day, and things were moving forward nicely. (The 'plus' was based on the Slim Jim-factor.)


Up next was a day in Chicago to attend the grand behemoth of car shows, none other than World Of Wheels at McCormick Place. Another stellar outing, as we enjoyed the day on every level, but an "X-factor" was lurking around the corner. It is important to say that with the business cards only being four months old at this point, Chicago Jon Productions is a rather "rudderless ship". I mean, other than being a cracker-jack photographer with a love for the sport, possessing considerable archives, there really isn't a plan here.


I'm just two sticks to the left of being Bud Anderson from 'Father Knows Best', trying to sell gravy boats (Season 2, Episode 1). "Uhm, this is a Gravy Boat, you, uh...put GRAVY in it, so...if you have any GRAVY...." So, the X-Factor is not 'around the corner', he is at the bottom of the escalator, and his name is Robert "Broadway Bob" Metzler. As usual, he is friendly and engaging with EVERYONE who passes by, including us. He presses into my hand a flyer for the track’s upcoming banquet. Not wanting to be "out-moxied", I give him a business card, and NOW I have HIS attention. We say our goodbyes, and, hastily scribbled into the teacher’s day-planner (in number 2 pencil, of course) is a trip north for the upcoming banquet.


In between the chance meeting with Broadway and the Great Lakes Banquet, stock in Chicago Jon spikes with myself earning an 'honorable mention' in NHRA’s amateur photo contest. I book a room for us in nearby Kenosha, Wisconsin, and it's off to the banquet, where I do a great job of acting like I'm the next big thing. (According to some, I pretty much feel like this all the time anyway, lol) Supposedly, Vince Lombardi once said (regarding showboating after a touchdown) "Act like you've been there before." I set up a table, with the new issue of National Dragster showcasing my photo, a handful of other shots from my portfolio, fan out some business cards, and proceed to just STAND there, acting matter-of-fact. (With a side order of "bored", to make it seem routine.) Broadway Bob saunters over, I remind him of our conversation in Chicago, and the 'typical' racing bull-spitting ensues. By the end of the evening, I've been anointed with the position of 'Bob’s Personnel Photographer", and everything for CJP has now changed.


My student passes this exercise with flying colors, and the agenda for the year is now MARKEDLY different. (And the fact that, after years of working for Broadway, I learn that such a title could have been easily attained by mailing in 15 box-tops from Coco-Puffs cereal, but so what? I was now at The DANCE!)


The next four months are a blur of weekly trips to Great Lakes, and a SPECTACULAR weekend in Indianapolis, courtesy of Bob name-dropping me/us into passes for the divisional points race. (This outing served as "spring break", also an important part of ANY scholastic curriculum.) Things are happening fast, with nothing but passing grades all along the way for my prize-pupil, but what happened at the June points race at Great Lakes was the master-stroke, if not Master’s DEGREE. Nothing, and I do mean NOTHING says you accept this life of racing like grabbing the cooler and dumping its ice-water contents over your head to, in no particular order, clean-up, WAKE up, refresh yourself, and most of all, get a weekend of GUNK out of your hair. And when I saw my woman do this, of her own inspiration on that long, hot, FILTHY day, I knew she had graduated!

And so, that is my February tale of love, romance, and "Drag Racing Wife’s School". This 14th day of the month, we'll have a nice dinner of Italian, and pop Roger Corman’s CLASSIC 1967 film 'The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre" into the VCR. (Because nothing says romance the "Chicago Way", like guys getting mowed down by Tommy-guns!)


I AM "Professor" Chicago Jon. Time to say...C-YAAAAA!!!  



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